Do you know your stuff?

“Regardless of whether you are an entrepreneur or whether you are an employee of a large company, the absolute prerequisite is that you must know your stuff. There is no substitute for this.”

Fred. C. Koch

You can’t fake it. There’s no tiptoeing around this fact if you want to create long-term success. You have to be good at getting good at what you want to be successful doing. If you’re going to earn a new position or promotion, you have to be exceptional at doing your current role AND learn the stuff that will make you successful in the new role. 

Know your stuff.  

Do your job.  

It’s that simple. And that’s where the complexity comes into play. The world isn’t static; the stuff you need to know is ever-changing. The needs of a role today might be dramatically different a year from now. So, if you want to create a platform of long-term success, never stop seeking opportunities to be exceptional within your role. Your job is to know your stuff…

Be better, specifically…

“It’s better to hang out with people better than you. Pick out associates whose behavior is better than yours, and you’ll drift in that direction.”

Warren Buffett

What is your measure of “better?” What behaviors do you see yourself needing to improve and enhance? To find the right people, you must be specific, don’t seek to get “better” at a generic level. 

For example, is it discipline where you need to improve? Then find those with higher personal discipline levels, spend time with them, learn what they do, see how they live life in a disciplined manner, and then add those skills to your toolbox. 

If you already know what “better” looks like, that’s half the battle; you know what you are seeking for, find it.  

Are you really listening to what others have to say?

“Successful people ask for the criticism of others and consider its merit.”

Ray Dalio

If you are going to ask for the criticism of others, you have to be ready, willing, and able to HEAR what they might have to say. To do this effectively, one must surrender their ego and desire to be right and instead focus on the desire to be BETTER. Of course, this is much easier said than done. However, the burning platform in all of our minds should be that “what got us here won’t get us where we want to go” if we aren’t seeking out FEEDBACK and perspective.  

That’s what the second part of the quote is all about, can one put their ego aside long enough to consider the perspective and perception of others? Does the view of the world, seen through someone else’s lens, have merit that should necessitate a change in understanding or behavior on your part?  

I think this is where the world falls apart today. Everyone is talking, very few are listening. Very few are willing to open themselves to input and criticism and then do the much more complex work of interpreting the merit of that perspective in an honest and meaningful manner. Wouldn’t we be much more successful in life if we all did this?

Movement is what matters the most…

“If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.”

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Sometimes the progress towards goals comes easy, and it feels effortless and smooth, almost “magical.” But then there are those days where every step is a struggle and a grind. Success is built on the days where you grind it out. Those are the days when real progress happens because those could quickly become the days you give up and walk out on your dreams.  

Even when it’s hard, keep moving because that is when the movement matters the most.  

Are you rowing with, or against others?

​“We may have all come on different ships, but we’re in the same boat now.”

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

It is incredible how much of our precious time and energy focus on differences instead of aligning on similarities and commonalities. 

Once we recognize that we are all in this life together and that our dreams for life are more similar than different, we can get a lot more done.  Grab an oar and row, time to move the boat forward…

How are your sails set?

“When the winds of change blow, some people build walls, and others build windmills.”

Author Unknown

The wind is going to blow. Are you going to harness the power and sail further and faster, or are you going to try and wait it out, see what happens, and hope for the best? Hope is not a strategy, so set your sails and harness the breeze.

Are you prepared to conquer?

“Energy & persistence conquer all things.”

Benjamin Franklin

What are the big things that you want to accomplish this year?

Will they happen by default, or will you have muster resources to enable success? I imagine that if your goals are like mine, they aren’t going to happen without a lot of dedicated and focused effort. And, if they are really good goals, the kinds that stretch you and move you out of your comfort zone, persistence will be necessary because you are likely to experience setbacks and failures along the way. 

So, what will you do today to invest energy into moving your goals forward? How are you preparing your mind for setbacks so that you can acknowledge them, learn, and then continue to move forward when they inevitably occur?  

Do you control the snow?

“No snowflake in an avalanche ever feels responsible.”

Stanislaw Jerzy Lec

It’s never the decision to eat a single cookie that makes a person gain weight. Likewise, it’s not the one day you decide to sleep in and skip the morning run that makes fitness slip away. The late project, missed dance recital or baseball game, a lost connection with a friend across the country, none of these things are singular events that create an avalanche of lost opportunity and regret. Instead, they are the snowflakes that amass until all the conditions are right and it is too late to stop the momentum.

Conversely, every decision, choice, and opportunity to make a conscious and intentional practice of recognizing and acting on what is truly important can and will change your life and the lives of those you love.  

What is the impact of the snow you are adding to your avalanche today?

Is your growth based on success?

“Some people could be given an entire field of roses and only see the thorns in it. Others could be given a single weed and only see the wildflower in it. Perception is a key component to gratitude. And gratitude a key component to joy.”

Amy Weatherly

Roses or thorns? Weeds or wildflowers? Which ones do you naturally see? Or, stated another way, what is going well versus what needs improvement?

I fully admit that I tend to view the world through the lens of “opportunity for improvement” instead of seeing things going well. As a result, I bias towards what can/should be done better or more effectively and focus my energy on improving and growing those areas. It isn’t bad necessarily, but just as it helps to list the things you are grateful for, it is vital to list the things you are doing well and then find a way to do more of them.  

A daily gratitude journal has been one of the best personal growth habits I have ever implemented; perhaps a daily “successes” journal would be just as impactful, especially if one were to take those things that built the win and use them as a foundation to create more successes.  

This thing you are focused on, is it useful?

“What will your life have been, in the end, but the sum total of everything you spent it focusing on?”

Oliver Burkeman

As I have written before, one of my favorite questions to ask myself when faced with an emotional response to a situation or circumstance is, “Is this useful?” It can be incredibly clarifying and helpful in focusing life’s precious energy on what is and isn’t beneficial within a particular moment. Zooming out, I am thinking through applying this same question when faced with a decision about the investment of energy towards a project, initiative, or goal. 

“Is this useful?”

I guess the answer depends on whether or not you know what you are focusing on and why. In the end, how you answer this question will determine the impact your life has had on others. These are three simple words, yet they hold so much power when asked and answered.  

“Is this useful?”

Are you quietly fixing failure?

“Failure is your responsibility. Share the credit, take the blame, and quietly find out and fix things that went wrong.”

Colin Powell

Failure isn’t something that happens to you; it happens for you. If you blame others, you push the responsibility away from yourself and take away your opportunity to learn, grow, and lead.  

I am sure that we have all known bombastic people who yell and scream when things don’t go their way. But, unfortunately, they generally aren’t people who can “quietly find out and fix things that went wrong.” Perhaps they never had a positive example of effective leadership; maybe the only thing they know how to do is assign blame and point fingers. Sometimes these types are even quite effective at producing results, at least temporarily. However, I would argue that if one spends their time pointing fingers, sooner or later, they will find themselves with no one to point at except themselves. 

Where have you failed, and what are you going to fix today quietly?

What is the cost of not managing your time?

“People are frugal in guarding their personal property; but as soon as it comes to squandering time, they are most wasteful of the one thing it is right to be stingy.”

Seneca

I recently did an exercise where I kept a time journal and recorded every task or moment I spent in a given day. I thought I was pretty disciplined with my use of time, but I was still amazed at how much margin I was letting slip through the cracks without really understanding the impact, or lack thereof, for every moment spent in a day. I conservatively estimated I could get one hour back each day by eliminating several non-value added activities or dispensations of time. So what is the value of this hour? Well, it depends, of course. 

What is the value of the book that you might not otherwise have read? What is the value of the extra time shared with a family member that comes from being fully present at the moment? What is the impact of intentionally choosing to spend your time in an impactful versus wasteful manner? 

You will never know the answers to these questions until you audit your time and then make a choice to spend it more wisely. There are 168 hours in the week ahead; how will you invest them?

Are you seeking out positive friction?

“Change means movement. Movement means friction.”

Saul Alinsky

We spend so much of our lives trying to reduce friction and minimize the impact of change on our lives. But, by doing this, are we also taking away the opportunity to embrace change? 

We often see discord as a bad thing; however, friction polishes the rock into a gemstone, and friction can spur creative thinking and instill action and urgency.  

Where is the positive conflict in your life? What is happening that indicates change, growth, an opportunity to do and be more than you’ve ever thought possible? Who are those people that are positive catalysts for change and movement?

Friction isn’t harmful if you are moving and growing and changing.  

Embrace it. 

Learn from it. 

Seek more of it.  

Can you grow if you aren’t scared a little bit?

“There’s no pride in doing things easy. No one brags about walking up the little grassy slope.”

Penn Jillette

Do your goals scare you, even if just a little bit? If the answer is ‘no’ then are you dreaming big enough? Growth occurs outside of our comfort zone, when we are pushing beyond what we think is possible. 

I intentionally emphasize the word ‘your’ above. It isn’t the goals of others, or comparing your goals to theirs that matters. Your mountain might be someone else’s grassy slope. Or your grassy slope might be an insurmountable peak when seen through another’s eyes. It isn’t about whether your goals are hard or easy as viewed through the lens of the rest of the world. It is whether or not they are challenging YOU.  

 Safe is easy. Doing what you already know is possible, that’s not a goal, it is surrendering to a less than optimal life. Are you willing to live a life that is less than you are capable of? Why settle? Do something that scares you, you might find you like what happens.

Are you stuck in a lazy river?

“No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river, and he’s not the same man.”

 Heraclitus

How many of us have the same or very similar goals for 2022 that we have had in years past? 2022 is different, right? So why do we treat life as a lazy river flowing in a continuous loop and think that if we float along long enough, we will see the same things again? Time is finite and precious; once passed, it never returns.

Another thought, how many times in life have you found yourself going through the motions and feeling like you are Bill Murray in the movie “Groundhog Day?” You wake and repeat the same actions, and it feels like the treadmill of life is just rolling and rolling, with no change in the scenery. 

It isn’t true. You aren’t the same person. The results might be the same, and you may feel like you are in the same place, but there is something different. The life experiences you have had, the books you have read, the things you have learned are all flavoring your next moment, subsequent response, and next breath. 

However, you must be willing to turn on that self-awareness and give yourself space to see the differences, apply the learnings, and make different decisions. If you don’t, while the river isn’t the same, and you aren’t the same person, you choose to limit your beliefs and pretend that nothing has changed, when in reality, EVERYTHING is different.

Can you see your goals?

“Your goal should be out of reach but not out of sight.”

Anita Defrantz

What are your goals for this coming year? Are they written down? Have you created a constant and daily reminder that helps you lift your gaze from the grindstone of effort to ensure that you remember why you are doing the work the in the first place? 

It’s okay if the goal scares you and you don’t know precisely how you will get there. However, when going gets tough, and it will, you must have the intestinal fortitude to keep going and slog through the efforts that might be necessary for your goal to become a reality.  

How can you possibly motivate yourself to do the hard work if you can’t remember where you are going and why it matters in the first place?

Are you bringing discipline to your efforts?

“My powers are ordinary. Only my application brings me success.”

Isaac Newton

Each year I take time in December and choose three words that will inspire, motivate, discipline, guide, and enhance my actions and choices in the coming year. I’ve written about this before, and I use the process that Chris Brogan lays out in his blog HERE as a framework for my approach. 

I mention this because this quote brings to mind the reason behind one of my keywords for 2022, and that word is ‘Discipline.’

It doesn’t matter what your intent is about anything if you doesn’t convert that intention into action with diligence and extreme discipline. In most cases, discipline separates the wannabe from the person who executes their plan. Likewise, all the resolutions and wishes in the world don’t matter if you don’t apply the actions necessary to turn those ethereal thoughts into a stone-cold reality.

Are you content to be flying on autopilot?

“There’s nothing more important than knowing where you’re going.”

J.J. Abrams

There is an old saying that “if you don’t know where you are going, any road will take you there.” Unfortunately, life can be a lot like this. If one isn’t careful, the autopilot feature can kick on, and suddenly, you’ll look around and realize time has passed by and you can’t remember how you got to where you are, and if you even want to be there! 

Oh, how easy it is to slip into this trap of an autopilot life where every day is a repeat of the last, a myriad of fires to be put out, and a never-ending stream of moles that must be whacked.  

What is the antidote to an seemingly automatic life? Where is the off switch that puts you back in the driver’s seat, intentionally driving to the correct destination? For me, it starts with a focus on my Faith. When I am paying attention to the purpose of my life and why God has put me down a particular path, the road seems clear. When I allow myself to be in charge or think that I am in control, suddenly the world is a little less clear, and the destination less confident.  

Find your path, set your destination, align with drives you, check the map regularly and turn off your autopilot. The next year will fly by; you might as well get somewhere on purpose.  

Are you choosing to believe your lies?

“Above all, don’t lie to yourself.”

Fyodor Dostoevsky

A week or so ago, I used this quote as my daily message, “We judge other people by their actions, but we judge ourselves by our intentions.” Craig Groeschel

I haven’t been able to stop thinking about how true this is and how it applies to almost every aspect of life. When we judge ourselves by our intentions, we are lying and positioning information to make us feel better about something we did, or didn’t, do. In essence, we are creating an escape hatch for accountability. But, unfortunately, that’s not going to get us to where we want to be in life unless an inauthentic, excuse-driven victim’s life is somehow in your goals and dreams.  

Where are you lying to yourself today? What truths do you know but are unwilling to face and admit? The good news is that by embracing the truth, you can form an honest and realistic action plan to create positive change.  

Do you intend to believe your lies forever?

Are you willing to live on purpose?

“Everybody ends up somewhere in life. A few people end up somewhere on purpose.”

Andy Stanley

“On purpose” = to achieve something with intentionality.

Are you living your life in this way? Do you have a goal, a plan, a process to measure success and adjust your actions as necessary? Don’t create a New Year’s resolution, merely a wish that might or might not happen. Instead, take the time today to step back, step away, focus on capturing your intentions for your life and what you will do in 2022 to make those happen. Then, use this start to a new year to build a plan that matters because your life matters, right? Who is going to do it if you won’t? No one. Why live that way? Start living an “on purpose” life today. That’s a goal that matters…

Are you aware of the opportunity cost of wasted time?

“It is not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste a lot of it.”

Seneca

December 31st is one of my favorite days of the year. I love setting aside time to reflect on the year that is almost over, assess what I want to improve upon or achieve in the coming year and pause to appreciate all the good things that have happened over the previous 364 days.

If I am being honest, one of the things I typically review with some regret is how much time was “wasted” over the year. I remember the moments that created a positive memory for myself or others with joy and fondness. The time I spent doing things that didn’t add value to the lives of those I care about and serve never makes my list because it is GONE and has zero return on the investment. 

Truthfully, wasted time has a negative return on investment; it is a lost asset that can’t be retrieved in any possible way. So there is an opportunity cost for the wasted time that, unfortunately, is far too easy to ignore or rationalize away. But it is always there.  

So my challenge for this new year is to be even more intentional in spending my time and waste less. I will be focused on improving the daily, weekly, and monthly investments of precious time so that next December 31st, I have even more to be grateful for during my reflection period. 

2022 is going to be a fantastic year; 2021 certainly was.

Is this useful?

“Everything gets harder if you start going on about how hard it is.”

Stephen Covey

Have you ever noticed that certain people always want to share how much energy they spent on something and how hard they had to work to get that thing done? The amount of time spent lamenting difficulties is always challenging for me to hear as it conveys a focus on what I see as a non-value-added use of time. As a result, I sometimes find myself screaming in my head, “instead of talking about a problem, invest your very finite amount of energy into fixing it!” Fortunately, I don’t actually scream that out or even whisper it; instead, a simple phrase that I have borrowed from my meditation practices serves as a great reset question, both for myself and others. “Is this useful?”  

It is incredible how this simple question can reset the mind and focus on what is and isn’t essential. So give it a try; you might find yourself going on less and getting more done.  

Do you have a plan to assess?

“We can’t improve what we don’t assess.”

 Michael Hyatt & Daniel Harkavy

What were the most important things you wanted to accomplish this past year? Were you able to achieve them? If not, what got in the way? Did you have a routine process you used to evaluate progress and assess momentum? If the answer is no, how could you know if you were progressing towards your goals?  

One of my favorite exercises at the end of the year is to set aside a day to reflect on the year just past and assess what I did well, contemplate those areas of my performance where I was lacking, and begin to plan for the year ahead. I am not big on New Year resolutions, but I am a massive fan of taking the time to intentionally plan my goals and curate the experiences I desire to create. As I work through this process for 2021, I can see an opportunity to improve next year by regularly reviewing my progress and performance throughout the year. Therefore, I will be much more intentional about setting aside time to pause, assess, and incorporate improvements into my work for the coming year. 

Plan your work, work your plan, assess your performance, build a better plan, execute all over again…

Learning to love less…

“The less I needed, the better I felt.”

Charles Bukowski

Over the past six months, I have chosen to put down my daily blogging habit. It happened because I missed a few days due to work; there was just too much going on at the moment in July when I last posted regularly. Over these past five months, something has been missing, and it wasn’t that I needed more time; I needed more intentionality with my time. I have realized how much I enjoyed writing for 15-30 minutes each day and reflecting on the meaning of a particular quote. I genuinely don’t know how many people, if any, read this blog regularly. But that isn’t why I write. I write because it is a meaningful use of time for me. It creates focus and discipline in my life. 

What does that have to do with today’s quote? Perhaps not much at all. But as I reflect on the year behind and make plans for the year ahead, it is apparent that less is truly more. The fewer distractions one has, the more focused you can be on the things that really matter. The better people that you have surrounded yourself with in life, the more impact you can have for others.  

As I wrap up 2021 and reflect on all the changes that the past year has carried, I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to learn the value of less. I am excited about what is to come in 2022 and opportunities to serve more people in a balanced and intentional manner. It starts with picking up an old habit and writing again. It’s good to be back.  

Are you seeking a good return on energy invested?

“If you have something to do that is worthwhile doing, don’t talk about it, but do it. After you have done it, your friends and enemies will talk about it.”

George W. Blount

Talking about action and worrying about what others might think are activities with low ROEI (Return On Energy Invested). Instead, channel every precious ounce of the finite energy you have into creating meaningful action.

Nike has it right, “Just Do It…”

Are you watching stars or satellites?

“We need to learn to set our course by the stars, not by the lights of every passing ship.”

Omar Bradley

I recently spent some time in Montana, and the brilliance of the stars in the night sky was simply incredible. It was indeed one of the most impressive things I have ever seen.

I remember looking at the stars early one morning and seeing a moving “star” across the sky. It wasn’t a star at all but merely a satellite, something that was bright and moving but impermanent and gone in just a few moments. As soon as it was out of my field of vision, my focus returned to the stunning constellations and bright stars that people have viewed for millennia.

It can be so easy to shift attention to the newest shiny star in the sky. But those aren’t stars at all; they are merely distractions from the path. They are satellites that move and are gone from view. Focus on the stars instead.

What matters more, optimism or honesty?

“You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end — which you can never afford to lose — with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”

Vice Adm. James Stockdale

Admiral Stockdale indeed spoke from a place of deep personal experience. If you don’t know his story, I highly encourage you to click to learn more about him via the link embedded with his name above.  

Rather than write about my thoughts on this quote, I’ll simply share the ‘Stockdale Paradox’ here. Those words say it all.  

James C. Collins related a conversation he had with Stockdale regarding his coping strategy during his period in the Vietnamese POW camp. When Collins asked which prisoners didn’t make it out of Vietnam, Stockdale replied:

“Oh, that’s easy, the optimists. Oh, they were the ones who said, ‘We’re going to be out by Christmas.’ And Christmas would come, and Christmas would go. Then they’d say, ‘We’re going to be out by Easter.’ And Easter would come, and Easter would go. And then Thanksgiving, and then it would be Christmas again. And they died of a broken heart. This is a very important lesson. You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end—which you can never afford to lose—with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”

Collins called this the Stockdale Paradox.

Are you willing to embrace the brutal facts?

Every day should be Veteran’s Day…

“Honor to the soldier and sailor everywhere, who bravely bears his country’s cause. Honor, also, to the citizen who cares for his brother in the field and serves, as he best can, the same cause.”

 Abraham Lincoln

The words “thank you” will never be enough to convey the depth of appreciation and respect I have for those who have served our country and defended our freedoms. It isn’t enough to say the words or even make donations and attempt to assist those who have served. The ultimate way of honoring those who put their lives on the line to provide for our freedoms is to live in such a way that honors their sacrifices every single day. So what can you do every day in appreciation for the freedoms we enjoy?

Can you gain wisdom from quitting?

“Age wrinkles the body. Quitting wrinkles the soul.” 

 General Douglas MacArthur

Look back on your life and think of a time when you quit something that you now regret. What did you learn from this experience? Does it serve as motivation to carry on and persevere today when faced with challenges? The beauty of age is that you have earned the wrinkles formed by good and bad experiences. If you choose to accept the lesson, you get to show up today better because of what you have learned.

Are you prepared to work and willing to fail?

“There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, and learning from failure.” 

Gen. Colin Powell

My favorite part of this quote is “it is the result.”  Success is the outcome of the inputs necessary to create it. It isn’t predestined or absolute; it is what comes after you put in the effort.  

How hard would you work if you knew you were guaranteed success? Would you be willing to put in the extra effort, the “over the top” input necessary to make a difference? Would you be ready to learn from failure if you knew the outcome was absolute?  

Are you preparing to do the hard work and, if necessary, learn from failure? Only then can you achieve the desired results…

Are you leading with loyalty?

“Leadership is a two-way street, loyalty up and loyalty down. Respect for one’s superiors; care for one’s crew.”

 Rear Admiral Grace Hopper

Veteran’s Day is later this week, and to help honor the contributions of all of our Veterans, the quote from every day this week will come from a military leader.  

The beauty in this quote is the interpretation of what loyalty means for the different constituents. If you don’t demonstrate these behaviors, you certainly won’t receive loyalty from either group… 

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dusty

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